At a glance, the picture of the pandemic in the United States may seem remarkably stable. The average number of new confirmed cases of coronavirus per day has barely increased for weeks, ranging from 95,000 to 115,000 daily each day in June.
A closer look shows that as public test sites managed by state and local governments have been seen, more states have also stopped giving daily data updates, creating a more foggy look at the state of the virus. across the country.
This comes when new federal estimates on Tuesday showed that the rapidly spreading omicron subvariant known as BA.5 has become dominant among new coronavirus cases. As of the week ending Saturday, BA.5 accounted for about 54% of new cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just a week ago, the agency’s estimates had put BA.5 and BA.4, another omicron subvariant, together as dominant, experts had predicted. The new statistics, released Tuesday morning, are based on modeling and may be revised as more data arrives.
BA.4 and BA.5 are able to evade some of the antibodies produced after coronavirus vaccinations and infections, including infections caused by some other versions of omicron. But researchers in South Africa recently reported that a spring increase driven by BA.4 and BA.5 did not appear to cause a significantly more serious disease than the country’s first wave of omicrons.
The reduction in U.S. public testing means that laboratory-based PCR testing capacity in July will be only half of what it was in March, according to a recent estimate by Health Catalysts Group, a research and consulting firm. Even a few testing companies announced layoffs and closures last week.
The vast majority of positive results from popular home test kits are not included in the official data, and not everyone who gets infected knows or takes the test. It seems that many Americans are moving even further away from focusing on the daily count of cases, which has undoubtedly always been a lower count of total infections, as a measure of the country’s pandemic health. But other Americans with risk factors have said they feel ignored and abandoned as their governments and neighbors have tried to return to normalcy.
And some scientists estimate that the current wave of cases is the second largest in the pandemic.
“One of my favorite lines from someone at the CDC was‘ You don’t have to count raindrops to know how hard it rains, ’” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said in a conference in late June. Aspen. , Colorado. “So we can say between half a million and a million PCRs that we’re doing every day like we’re in areas of the country.”
Monitoring the risk levels of the CDC community shows that in its latest update, 33% of the U.S. population lived in a high-risk county, in most regions outside the Northeast. By May, the map had been turned upside down, and the northeast comprised most high-risk counties. The CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public with this designation.
In most of the Northeast, cases have steadily declined throughout June, according to a New York Times database. In the south, many states have seen cases doubled or tripled at the same time. As of Sunday, more than 113,000 new cases of coronavirus are being reported every day in the United States.
“This is not really a reflection of the total amount of virus circulating in communities,” said Amesh Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at Bloomberg School of Public Health. He said his “behind the envelope” estimate was one million cases a day.
Because states report less frequently, changes in the trajectory of the virus are slower to reveal. Nearly all states reported the number of new cases of coronavirus, hospitalizations, and deaths for five days a week or more in 2020 and 2021, but now 23 states publish new data only once a week, according to Times follow-up. .
California, which previously updated its cumulative case and death figures every business day, now only does so twice a week. In Florida, case and death data are published only once every two weeks. Last week, many more public test sites were closed in Alaska, Colorado and Rhode Island. Iowa will close many venues by the end of next week.
Recent virus figures have gone around holidays such as Memorial Day and Juneteenth, during which many states usually pause in reports and then restart monitoring, a trend that will surely continue this week, after the head of holiday week of July 4th.
“Following the daily test count is less instructive than it was,” Adalja said, citing the close link between cases and hospitalizations in the past.
Today’s numbers should not be about how to check the daily standings or results of a sports team, he added.
“I think the tests are taking on a different role,” he said. “Even when the tests were done at a different point, it’s always been underestimated.”
To get a localized view of how the virus is, Adjala said she has come to rely on hospitalizations as a percentage of her capacity. It also monitors CDC community levels, which includes new hospital admissions and how many beds are used. It calls for a shift in focus towards serious illnesses, rather than following up on “booms and case boxes”.
Hospitalizations have increased modestly throughout June, although they remain low. Just over 33,000 people are in U.S. hospitals with the coronavirus on average, and fewer than 4,000 are in intensive care. Reports of new deaths remain below 400 a day, below the daily peak of more than 3,300 deaths in January 2021.